Keirartworks's Blog

hmmm. hmmm? Observations, actions and connection points through art.


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In search of light-heartedness

The bells, the paint, the studio cats who complain at the rain.  The reflective work, the promotional, the inquiring work, the rehearsals, the gigs, the scheduling work, the self nourishment which since November 9 has increasingly been – hard work.

The grim manifestation of positive, hopeful, pro-active paintings, songs and video as I emerge slow and stiff from the flatline shock of the US election and its results.

I trudge.  Plod, sink.  Grind my teeth and trudge on.

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Never has the political felt more personal to me.  We grieve like Sisyphus watching the boulder he pushed up the mountain for one hundred thousand years slide from his grip to roll away and down. It’ll be back at the bottom in mere months, picking up momentum as it goes.  He knows he must go after it, push it up again…

The reality of that election, what it means personally and for the world I love has me on the edge of melt-down, all the time.  I grit my teeth and trudge, propelled by clean rage – the only engine still running.

studio-bells

Never have I felt so urgent a need to think differently.  To find a clearer way to do my job – making/sharing art and music, being human.

Jack Dixon, American author, ‘The Pict’ (2007), The Barn:Memoir of a Family During the Nazi Occupation of Holland in 1940-1945′ (2014), and many more, wrote this:  

If you focus on results, you will never change.  If you focus on change, you will get results.

Toni Morrison, American Editor, Writer, Playwright, Literary Critic, ‘The Bluest Eye,’ ‘Song of Solomon,’ ‘Beloved”,’A Mercy.’ (and many more), wrote this:

This is precisely the time when artists go to work.There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear.  We speak, we write, we do language.  That’s how civilizations heal.

I know from experience that the rage engine, however clean, burns out and in the end costs me months or years of positive energy.  The joy engine, the hope and the laughter engines go farther with a far gentler toll. Kindness, love, generosity – these are the best engines of all, and I/we will need them in the months and years ahead.  So I search for the means to re-start them, to maintain and fuel them.

redblind

I’m making gatherings, since this is a thing we do together, repair and maintenance of joy and friendship.

  1. Studio tour here (live music, art, functional art, books, honey and a beautiful retrospective show of my dad’s paintings).  10am to 4pm, Circle Bar Art Factory, 1190 2nd Avenue East.  Write to me on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/events/205689303185216/), or at keirartworks@gmail.com for more information.
  2. Random Act of Christmas Music with the Cello Choir, at Frog Pond Cafe, 11am – 12:30pm, Saturday December 10.  We will play and bring lyrics for those who want to sing.  Highly recommended.  fb link:  https://www.facebook.com/events/209666356146246/
  3. Get your Wassail On!, at Heartwood Hall, Solstice night, 7pm Wednesday December 21.  We’ll bring a string orchestra, lyrics and good cheer, others will bring poems, songs, stories, and good cheer, you can come and bring your voice …and good cheer, in celebration of human beings everywhere as well as here.  fb link:  https://www.facebook.com/events/1721170268210795/

if you’re not on facebook, write to me at keirartworks@gmail.com for more information.  I would love to tell you more.

See you there, in person or in spirit.  All my love to you, truly.

Keira

 


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Once upon a tone…

I’m having trouble reading.  A smorgasboard of fascinating printed material, practically glowing inside beautifully designed covers – right in front of me, and I can’t find the anchor point, the stillness that gives permission to dive in and engage, without great effort.

It’s not glasses – I replaced my old foggy set with two exceptionally clear and useful pair, gone the headaches.  It’s not disinterest – I couldn’t be more passionate about the material this Masters course and my own inquiries offer me, or hungrier to understand more deeply.

Not schedule, not lack of sleep, not poor health, not an ability to interpret and articulate, focus or retain but still a trouble I am increasingly aware of.

It’s my patience, my attention span.  Somehow in the past four years, I’ve become hooked into distraction.

YellowBell_April3

Point-of-view alters understanding.

I need to consciously choose to dig into a new concept now. Decide, again and again to make a practise of reading each paragraph two times (necessary, to understand the irrationality of the Pythagorean comma and it’s resulting philosophical effect on the holy trinity, and hence contemporary governance).  I take mental and written notes, then move on only when I feel the bell of understanding resonate in my bones and blood.  The next time I sit down with the same book, I review, repeat, wait for the bell, then move on.

One hundred hundred chews per mouthful.  If I don’t do this I reach the end of a chapter and all I can think about is …. whether Donald Trump represents for our times the black hole that is Pythagoras’ comma.

Bell_Yellow2Mar16

So.  Throw paint at something, and find the sanctuary of ‘Do.’, away from the beckoning screen, the humming pile of books.

Thank you, iPhone, thank you Macbook Pro.  This is the result of you and your entire ecosystem of marketed convenience.  Three years ago I did an art project called #selfie that required extensive online research into and active participation in social media that still has me connected to thousands of people I know only virtually. Two years ago I dived into the vast ocean of tweeters and texters by accepting a 4s into my life, and the result was the twisting of my thought processes, overloading of my senses with so much irrelevant data that my mind – my mind – needs remedial care, just so I can read.  A Book.

And yet, books are the better diet, I’m finding.  Lightly sprinkled with internet research, they are once more becoming the oatmeal of my day.  I have receptors for this information, still. Each time I insist, my attention span lengthens a little more.

bell_sept15_detail

The Tone of Our Times (2014, MIT), by Frances Dyson – the main course of my reading at the moment.  Dyson is connected to a community of Scientists and Artists (ISAST) who have some simple goals:

  1. To advocate, document and make known the work of artists, researchers and scholars developing the new ways that contemporary arts interact with science, technology and society.
  2. To create a forum and meeting places where artists, scientists and engineers can meet, exchange ideas, and, where appropriate, collaborate.
  3. To contribute, through the interaction of the arts and sciences, to the creation of the new culture that will be needed to transition to a sustainable planetary society.

Important book.  Sassy, even, to my reading ear, and very dense.  I’m on page seven of the intro and already I’ve needed to dig into terms and references online, like monochord … cosmology; techno-gnosis; doxa…

yellowbell_nov2015psd

A hundred hundred chews, and not too much at once.  Here are the first two points of Ed Boyden’s (also MIT) advice about “Managing brain resources in an age of complexity” (November 13, 2007)

When I applied for my faculty job at the MIT Media Lab, I had to write a teaching statement. One of the things I proposed was to teach a class called “How to Think,” which would focus on how to be creative, thoughtful, and powerful in a world where problems are extremely complex, targets are continuously moving, and our brains often seem like nodes of enormous networks that constantly reconfigure. In the process of thinking about this, I composed 10 rules, which I sometimes share with students. I’ve listed them here, followed by some practical advice on implementation.

1. Synthesize new ideas constantly. Never read passively. Annotate, model, think, and synthesize while you read, even when you’re reading what you conceive to be introductory stuff. That way, you will always aim towards understanding things at a resolution fine enough for you to be creative.

2. Learn how to learn (rapidly). One of the most important talents for the 21st century is the ability to learn almost anything instantly, so cultivate this talent. Be able to rapidly prototype ideas. Know how your brain works. (I often need a 20-minute power nap after loading a lot into my brain, followed by half a cup of coffee. Knowing how my brain operates enables me to use it well.)

So I change it up, the reading, and I don’t gorge myself.  I also have dessert waiting for me – a beautiful little book titled Once Upon a Time; A Short history of fairy tale, by Marina Warner (Oxford, 2014).

yellowbell_nov2015_bw

She begins, “Imagine the history of fairy tale as a map, like the Carte du Tendre, the ‘Map of Tenderness’, drawn by Parisian romancers to chart the peaks and sloughs of the heart’s affections….”

Ah, how I love a good map.  But first, a little paint throwing, and then half a cup of coffee outside in the long autumn sunlight.


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Back in.

Sideways works best.

I’ve been away from this studio for a month – longest time in three years – to work at sorting out old family issues that had reached a boiling point, then (surprise) to feed and look after a teenage cat mama and her three kittens who appeared in my house half-way through June.  Quite a distraction, four cats. Welcome in my life while I chewed on old family gristle.  Happily I found a generous adopter who has taken all four of them in so the family can stay together. They are installed there now, charming and distracting other people….

You’ll want to see a picture (I have many)

IMG_1200

Finally I’m back in studio to work, changed and feeling more than a little stupid as I look at the pieces I left at various states of completion.  What was I planning?  The notes I left are a clue, yellow wash left-centre, white on overlapped spirals, throw brass-green, where is the guitar, but I’m seeing these pieces from a different place, differently.

All of my fine procrastination skills are in full play. I understand the principle of stick with it but when you are slightly out alignment with ‘it’, there’s no way to force this.  It’s also hot.

…just went to pick up my camera and tripod at the house, paused there to pull some weeds, water the plants on the deck.  Returned from that extended errand I realize I need fresh cream for my coffee.  I need the black table and the cutting table cleared for work and photos, but it’s covered in Purcell, Handel, Haydn, Bach, Beatles – all taken out of my carefully constructed quartet binders, loose.  I twitch every time I look at it, but I know it will take a full day to put it right again….shall do this now, right after I sweep the floor and put the ink away, or walk to the corner store for cream first…..

I compromise, pile the music mess and put it somewhere safe for later, clear the surfaces for new work, fill the water jugs, check which mixed paint has dried and what’s still good.  I take photos and develop them for the ‘process’ files

July6_2016

Cashews, fan, cleared work surfaces and some mixed yellow paint that’s still good

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and the first wash is done:

YellowBellJuly6_16B

There.  The story thread has been woven back in, and my bodymind is happy in image mode again.  I can now safely go and get cream for coffee #2.

This is heaven.

 


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Colour Pages #6: Violet

…day three relentless and me shrinking under the onslaught, smaller smaller until I smell like nothing at all not even fear you could walk through me and not even know it now, though I would feel it.  Years ago I had a voice, strong in the chorus of strong but someone I trusted browbeat the spectrum out of me, left me pale at the edge of translucency here with my belly clenched just make it stop.

This was a good while ago.  Both colour and strength return, wages of the effort taken to understand how I ever got myself into that place, how to get myself out and fully reclaim the good plan I had.

I choose to keep part of me violet always.  To remember so I never disappear again.

Bullies are violet, though they glow red and hard orange when on a rampage.  Those they torment inherit violet from them like a virus.  Shrinking, small, unimportant, voiceless, underserving, angry-but-gagged violet.

Beautiful humble fragile wise violet.

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Violent.

Remove the ‘n’ and it becomes a flower.

Violet

There is no worship of injury here, no victimhood.  Violet is the fragile place from which courage rises. Inside the smallness is the will to turn and claim your own strength, no matter how loudly the monster rages.

There is a secret person undamaged in every individual.  (PH Shepard)

Strength of violet.  Walk softly with yourself.


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bound·a·ry

bound·a·ry
Origin
early 17th century: variant of dialect bounder, from bound2 + -er1, perhaps on the pattern of limitary.
CurbPuddle
Interesting word.
from “bound”
  1. 1.
    a territorial limit; a boundary.
    “the ancient bounds of the forest”
    • a limitation or restriction on feeling or action.
      “it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that the issue could arise again”
    • technical
      a limiting value.
  1. form the boundary of; enclose.
    “the ground was bounded by a main road on one side and a meadow on the other”
    • place within certain limits; restrict.
      “freedom of action is bounded by law”
      pot bound

      pot bound

the word is also almost it’s own opposite:

verb
  1. 1.
    walk or run with leaping strides.
    “Louis came bounding down the stairs”
noun
  1. 1.
    a leaping movement upward.
    “I went up the steps in two effortless bounds”

Bound for glory.

OldCelloScrollEd

bound by…  a promise

It’s bound to happen…

Photo by Dominie McGruer, 2012.  A beautiful place to let go of.

Photo by Dominie McGruer, 2012. A beautiful place to let go of.

Good heavens but life has been intense these past two weeks.  It feels as though we are in the shimmering time between before and soon, when old heavy things rise to the surface to be dealt with in new ways.  There is no getting around it – old things must be dealt with, sorted out, brought to conclusion, ended.  It’s requiring an objectivity from me that I’ve never before had to access, as I watch myself and others involved get triggered, explode from old injuries which just get deeper, react out of panic and fear, escalate, deny, avoid.  As we slowly slowly come to terms with what simply … is.

I have a new respect for good lawyers, who enjoy a certain lightness of being I very much aspire to.  They are the boundary keepers, the good fence builders.  They seek and define common ground, demand of us self respect.

MamaMaple'sArm

I recently spent the night in a forest under an old old maple.  I was there just to listen and watch, though my busy mind often interfered.  There was a root – her foot I thought, sticking up just high enough to be my pillow.  Little insignificant me under the upward and inward gaze of old old she.

I was significant to the mosquitoes, who were there in great number.

Busy mind, mosquitoes in great number… I got a tent.

MamaMaple

Inside the tent, everything outside was muffled, and I was amplified.

Later, the rain came down.


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Enter the exit again

1200 kilometres and one bottle of all-night-long scotch later, a 10-man reggae band called The Human Rights comes to my house and after partying euphoric until almost daylight, drapes its multi-limbs over every available surface and falls asleep, still humming.

Sometimes you just need a good shock to the system.  This makes it possible to change, says the Russian Martial Arts Master.

Thanks Scott.  You were right - this is better.

It’s working.  (Thanks Scott. You were right – this is better)

Old and dear friends carry pieces of you and keep them safe.  There have been two such in my life recently, for whom I have done the same.  We exchanged old letters, things kept now returned.  They returned to me many of my adult selves who’d been misrepresented in my memory- all of those selves are here in my studio now, chatting, getting acquainted.  They are interesting, these new-old bits of me.  But it has been a shock, to welcome them in.

So- a poem about shock.

open your heart

indeed it has been laid bare

all veils lifted even the final bullet

proof glass pulled aside

which cannot happen ever

without the key

From "The Lost Language of Symbolism" by Harold Bayley (Citadel Press- a reprint from early 20th century work by the Scots scholar of language and symbolism)

From “The Lost Language of Symbolism” by Harold Bayley (Citadel Press- a reprint from early 20th century work by the Scots scholar of language and symbolism)

The key of E minor hidden inside G major

the one-note key, long and blue

the uncomfortable incendiary note buried

but still glowing in the back of the closed

the forgotten closet, decades dark.

Damn it, you found me.  You Bastard.

After all that work of building callous

practising the fine art of dismissal

my bespoke suit made from

the most expensive nonchalance,

so that I, I ‘present’ well.

inside a steel-ribbed corset

that keeps me standing upright

in my self-respect.

Oh yes:  I own and appreciate my rigid.

 Bridge to Waterloo

Now, so now

Now there is a chorus of my wide open

hearts all singing discord

in the room, all tone-clustered

each note waiting for the next

private interview with bespoke me.

I have the gift you brought and left,

the small thing I know now

the incidental thing you returned to me

– that I have always had beauty.

 Bridge_Wloo2

It is a comfort, amid the ghostly caterwaul.

Open-hearted, I listen to the large issues

while the newly returned senses of my Beauty hear

the whispered question:

did you keep the key?

For both K and F, who recently reappeared out of thirty years ago, and M, who will at the end of the month.


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Colour Pages #1: Yellow

I’ve been ill and intensely insomnia’d recently – slowed down enough to obligingly revise my to-do lists from twenty things to one – or two if the gods are smiling.  In the in-between times, too tired to sleep or read or write or hold a thought long enough to notice what it is …. I’ve been bored.  This is no small thing and I do not make light of it. According to my upbringing and my deepest inclinations, boredom is a crime of the most serious nature.  A crime AGAINST nature, in fact.  It is absence of life and purpose.

YellowBell_Nov2015psd

This is not the yellow that I see in the original before me. The violet / purple in the background is close, after much calibration in photoshop. Why can’t I get the yellow to read, digitally? what’s up with that?

And so I feel like I’ve been KO’d.  I over-react in a kind of panic by revving my engines when I can find & start them – HUGE waste of precious gasoline.  In those moments, roaring like an worn out F350, I lock myself into an intense but oh-too-brief road-race contemplation of mortality, choice, autonomy, risk, personal truth… and joy, both humbly small and thunderingly huge.  I know full well this is a form of madness.

In the midst of this I ask myself, ‘What do you think?

(Like I’m in sanctuary, on White Cloud Island.)

About Yellow?

(Seeking relief, which it is.)

I’ll call these the Colour Pages.

same photo directly translated into black and white (photoshop CS4).  I did try, in a filter called ‘colour balance’ to remove every colour:  (red, yellow, green, cyan, blue, magenta) and the result was close enough to be the same.  So, where is the black, or the ‘absence of colour’, in this hot yellow I see in the original in front of me?  What are my eyes  – our eyes! – seeing that science and technology does not?

This blog has always been about process – the articulation and the sharing of it, the practise and the primacy of it.  I’ve felt always that finished paintings are but a by-product of what happens on the road from concept to completion. This in no way diminishes the importance of paintings as living, resonant things.  In my experience the finished (by)product will  always ‘sing’ if the practise that leads to it has integrity.   In order for process to have integrity however, I feel that it must be the most challenging, transformational part of art-making.  Not for the faint of heart, if you’re serious and have respect for what you do.

I’ve noticed that my idea of what a ‘professional’ product is has changed – especially over these past two years.  My ear for intonation and tone has as well, musically, which is the same muscle. Turns out it’s a constant refinement of perception.

January 2016

January 2016

Yellow, then.   Hmmm.

Why do I associate yellow with a seeking of Knowledge?

Lemon, pineapple seem obvious but that’s not what I taste.  Why does it instead taste like cumin?

Why does it feel like yellow is not a colour, but a light?  Like the feeling of sunlight in April after a long winter.

Cold yellow feels toxic; I avoid it’s use.  (Curious that this yellow is often called ‘lemon’.  Huh. The manufactured colour is not the same as my experience of lemon, unless you can call a colour ‘sour’.)  Cadmium yellow is a colour I avoid using as well – it feels opaque, obliterating, like heavy, cheap cheesey food – doesn’t work well with others, or my belly. Naples, Windsor, Barium, Turner’s, Chrome… I’ve used all of these but they resist light and do not glow.

A little internet digging (here) offers some history of artists’ eternal inquiry into yellow pigment for use in painting…

Gallstone
Prepared from the gallstone of an ox and gives a reasonably dark yellow. Nicholas Hilliard found it useful for shading with miniature work. John Payne in the 18th century found that dishonest colourmen were selling an inferior substitute. He suggested in his book on miniature-painting that artists should approach slaughter-houses and that the men there should be on the watch for gallstones. In 1801 it was one of the top four most expensive colours, Ackerman’s showing a charge of five shillings a cake.
Gamboge
A native yellow gum from Thailand. A bright transparent golden yellow for glazing or water-colour, it is not a true pigment. It has been in use since medieval times. J Smith in The Art of Painting in Oyl, published in 1701, describes a method for preparing the colour, which usually comes in rough cylinders about 2.5 in (6 cm) in diameter. ‘For a Yellow Gumboge is the best, it is sold at Druggist in Lumps, and the way to make it fit for use, is to make a little hole with a knife in the lump, and put into the hole some water, stir it well with a pencil till the water be either a faint or a deeper Yellow, as your occasion requires, then pour it into a Gally-Pot, and temper up more, till you have enough for your purpose.’ (Pencil here would mean a small, soft, hair brush.)
Geranium Lake
A fugitive pigment made from Eosine that was in vogue during the late 19th century and early 20th century. Van Gogh used it in versions of his Sunflowers. Now obsolete.
Giallorino
A lead yellow pigment likely to have been Naples Yellow. The Florentine painter Cennino Cennini mentions that Giallorino is associated with volcanoes but artificially made. This coincides with Naples yellow, which in Antiquity was collected as natural deposits from Mount Vesuvius, but by Cennini’s time had been synthesised. Another possibility is that the name refers to Lead-Tin Yellow (see below)….

… if you’d like to know more, go to the link here.

March 16, morning.

March 16, morning.

So technical and so familiar a thing for me, this historical context for colour.

For the purposes of this blog it’s infinitely infuriating that I can’t show you how HOT with yellow this painting actually is, right in front of me in my studio.  This is not entirely because of my relatively poor equipment or knowledge of digital colour, either.  I think the translation is not possible – original painting to internet or print.  This both saddens and gladdens me, as a painter.

You’ll just have to believe and imagine a yellow so alive it burns your retina and blots out all other colour.  A threshold yellow, beckoning, compelling, and also repelling.  Nickel Azo yellow, with washes of  ‘Indian’ yellow (good grief, what does That mean?), Mars Yellow, Hansa yellow medium and light….

Later on March 16

Later on March 16, still wet when photographed. Traditional colour theory says that compliments bring out the essence of their opposites – green and red; orange and blue; yellow and purple.  In this painting I want to initiate a different conversation – Azo with Cobalt.  Intense, so far.  We’ll see who else wants to be at table with those two….

More to come.

I’m happy to welcome April sun again, heartened by it as I am every year.

Here’s a tag thought:  perhaps boredom is in fact a place where structure can be set aside so that other, more fluid and enduring, changing things can enter?

Colour pages will continue – like my digital version of Klee’s notebooks, which I long to read in english.  From my familiar painter’s island, these will be a freeform romp through thoughts around the business of and tools for making visual art:  colour, line, form, subject, song, frequency, culture and cultural democracy, transformation.

Chime in, by all means – the process is best if collaborative.  Together we are an ecosystem and nothing happens in isolation.